Proposition F: A fight for the heart and soul of San Francisco

At the lively rally Tuesday for Prop F that filled BVHP with the sound and spirit of fighting back – and winning! – MC Joanne Abernathy shared a word with lead organizer Alicia Schwartz. Both are with POWER, People Organized to Win Employment Rights. Members of the SF State Black Student Union shared the stage. -Photo: Minister of Information JR

by Alicia Schwartz

There is a fight happening for the heart and soul of San Francisco: Bayview Hunters Point. Bayview Hunters Point, during World War II, was the heart and soul of San Francisco, as the district was the center of the wartime industry, drawing thousands of African Americans from the South to work on the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

Bayview Hunters Point was once the home of the Black Panther Party free breakfast programs. It was the site where, 40 years ago, the community rose up in resistance to police brutality against a young man named Matthew Johnson who was shot in the back by the San Francisco Police Department. Bayview Hunters Point was second only to the Harlem of the West, the Fillmore District, as the center for African American life.

Over the last 15 years, however, the African American population in San Francisco has dropped by 45 percent. That means nearly one in every two Black folks in this City have left. The reasons vary, but the most common reasons are 1) the lack of affordable, accessible, safe housing in San Francisco and 2) the feeling that San Francisco couldn’t care less whether Black folks stay or go.

Try and fill Candlestick Stadium – otherwise known as Monster Park – which holds 70,207 people, or AT&T Park, which holds 41,503 people, with African Americans in San Francisco, and you would not be able to do it. That’s the seriousness of the crisis of Black displacement or, should we say, Black disappearance, from the City and County of San Francisco. We live in a City that, while once a hub for African American life and culture, now has more dogs than children, and more dogs than Black people. Imagine that!

It’s almost as if Bayview Hunters Point has been forgotten. When tourists come to our City, they’re given maps that don’t even say that Bayview Hunters Point exists, much less is a place to visit. The only exception is when the police logs show another tragedy in the neighborhood, or when greedy developers, like Lennar, start eyeing this land to build multi-million dollar condos and stadiums where we can’t afford to even attend the games. Then, all of a sudden, Bayview Hunters Point is back on the map.

Lennar is an out of state, Miami-based developer worth more than $16 billion. This is a developer that has a horrible track record throughout the country for skirting environmental regulations and building poor quality homes that sell for top price.

In Florida, Lennar built brand new homes on top of an old World War II bombing range that still contained undetonated bombs, and failed to disclose that fact to the people who bought their homes – and soon found the bombs in their yards. In South Carolina, environmental advocate Erin Brockovich – known for her groundbreaking work with low-income residents in Hinkley, California, who were poisoned by PG&E – is investigating Lennar for building homes on contaminated land and failing to disclose it to new homeowners.

Lennar has used its multi-million dollar profits to buy off community groups, pay community residents as “consultants” and sell a set of wolf tickets that would have shamed even the wolf himself.

Right here in San Francisco, Lennar caused a stir in the South of Market area amongst those who’d recently bought million dollar condos, only to find that the work was half done, if done at all. And here in Bayview Hunters Point, Lennar, with intent, failed to install air monitors and follow environmental regulations to protect residents and elementary school children from asbestos laden dust.

Huttoparke, Texas, residents recently posted a You Tube video linked to a “Yes on Proposition F” commercial, detailing their troubles with Lennar (to view this video for yourself, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPvesq4TgAM&feature=related). There are hundreds and hundreds of stories like this one that detail the ways in which this company has lied to community residents, lied to new homeowners, lied to the Environmental Protection Agency, and used its deep pockets to get it out of hot water. And, if Lennar has its way, its Proposition G will turn over our community of Bayview Hunters Point to the lowest bidder — Lennar.

Lennar has used its multi-million dollar profits to buy off community groups, pay community residents as “consultants” and sell a set of wolf tickets that would have shamed even the wolf himself. Proposition G would allow them to gain control over nearly 800 acres of waterfront land and use public monies to build a stadium for a team that has already declared that they are leaving San Francisco.

The worst part of Proposition G is that it has absolutely, positively, no legally binding language. Riddled with words like “should,” “anticipates,” “encourages” and so on, Proposition G is composed of a lot of hot air with little, if any, REAL returns for San Francisco and, least of all, for Bayview Hunters Point (see the proposition for yourself: www.sfgov.org/site/uploadedfiles/elections/candidates/Jun2008_LT_Mixed-UseDevelopment.pdf).

Speaking of wolf tickets, ask Proposition G supporters if they have even read the proposition, and most will tell you that they haven’t, but they believe what Lennar says. The question is: Why? When and where has Lennar proven itself to be a trustworthy company?

Was it when it intentionally poisoned low-income Bayview residents and elementary school children for more than 384 days? Or was it when Lennar promised a $30 million legacy fund, which has now been whittled down to merely half of its original amount?

Or was it when Lennar promised to build 1,200 rental units on Parcel A, only to break that promise and instead move forward on building a gated community right in the middle of the hood? Needless to say, Lennar cannot be trusted, and we cannot afford to leave our future in the hands of a company that’s in the business of telling lies.

Proposition F, however, is a community backed grassroots proposition that has beat the odds to even make it this far. Qualified by gathering 11,818 signatures in less than 10 days, Proposition F says NO to developer’s greed, and YES to real benefits for Bayview residents.

Proposition F is not in the business of making deals – instead, Proposition F holds developers accountable to the future of our city by saying that we deserve better. We don’t deserve to be priced out of more than 75 percent of the housing built in our neighborhood that Lennar would sell at market rate, which currently hovers around $700,000.

We deserve more than a sad attempt to, as one Proposition G supporter said, “bring the Marina into the Bayview.” We deserve more than the same old politics, the same old backroom deals and the same old stuff with the same sad results.

Proposition F is more than a fair deal. In exchange for nearly 800 acres of waterfront property, more than $300 million in community dollars, $82 million in federal clean up monies, all we’re asking is that 50 percent of the 10,000 new housing units built be made affordable to those who live in the community right now. No gimmicks. No fine print. Clear and simple.

We’re also demanding that if Alice Griffith – also known as Double Rock public housing – is part of the development plan, that it be rebuilt without moving out current residents. No “shoulds,” no “anticipates,” no “encourages,” but instead, “Lennar must,” “Lennar will” and “Lennar is required to.” Proposition F is a proposition that you can trust, because it uses City law and legally binding language to hold developers accountable to our futures.

Not only is Proposition F a fair deal, but also it’s the only deal that wasn’t brokered in a backroom without community input, participation or support. Those 11,818 San Franciscans determined that another Bayview is not only possible, but NECESSARY to ensure the survival of African Americans and working class families in our city.

Proposition F was developed out of more than a year of weekly town hall meetings, averaging 100 people in attendance every week. Proposition F was developed out of four years of knocking on doors and talking with low-income homeowners and public housing residents about what it would take to make Bayview Hunters Point even better than it is.

Proposition F did not have to pay people to voice their support or appear on mailers. Proposition F did not have to include a “severability” clause in our initiative. That’s because Proposition F stands for families, a fair deal and the future.

On June 3, voters in our City have a critical choice to make. Will we sell the heart and soul of San Francisco to the lowest bidder for little return? Or will we stand up and demand that developers who come to our City play by the rules and protect the future of all of San Francisco?

A vote for Proposition F means that you believe that Lennar could do better by our children and by our communities. Even if you decide to vote for Proposition G, you MUST vote YES on Proposition F to make sure that the future is secured for Bayview Hunters Point.

Alicia Schwartz is a community organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and a student at San Francisco State University. For more information on Proposition F and to get involved, visit our website at www.PropositionF.com or our blog at http://yesonF.blogspot.com.